Brad’s iSTEP Experience
Posted August 5, 2009on:
When I began this internship, I was looking for a few very specific things: I wanted to experience a developing country, while making an impact on improving that community. I also needed to work within my area of expertise so that the work experience would be relevant toward my future career. I wanted to see the culture while not being a tourist, and work toward improving living conditions.
When I arrived in Tanzania, the pace surprised me. It’s not that I worked too little – in fact, I probably worked more than normal. Rather, things just took a lot longer to get done. This is because there is less control over the environment and less understanding of the conditions. The other part that was difficult for me was developing new technology to meet the needs of a community that still had so many basic needs that have yet to be fulfilled. A direct example is that Uhuru Mchanganyiko Primary School desperately needed braille books. It was tough because while this internship did have a component where we tried to match community needs with providers who could meet those needs, my job was to focus on what I could do in the framework of the research. This limited me to doing work that I did not necessarily feel was the most effective at helping the community.
However, the people here are invested in improving their lives, as well as the development of their country. Often, we wrongly assume that without help from developed communities, developing communities would crumble and fail. I think it is very much the opposite. If left to their own devices, developing communities will improve, but they can improve faster with help. And I guess that is why I wanted to be here.
I have been humbled by others’ hospitality and their warmth in helping a stranger, and I have been inspired by the work of Tanzanians. I have even advanced technically, getting my first real exposure to C++ and developing user documentation for people with limited technology experience. I have even learned how to work in a globally distributed team. I am confident that these skills will serve me well in the future.
Out of all the lessons learned, the biggest one I learned was to keep plugging. This means working through frustrations and limitations, and trying to find meaning even in small tasks. It means putting up with challenging conditions, and learning that what seems like a big problem in the United States is relatively minor here. It put things into perspective for me. And for that, I am grateful.
Bradley Hall was the Technical Lead for the Braille Writing Tutor project and was based in Dar es Salaam. Brad is a Mechanical Engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh expected to graduate in May 2010. As a 5th year scholar this coming year, Brad will continue his undergraduate experience next year under a full scholarship. He is the current president of Engineers without Borders-CMU and works as the Community Adviser for Donner House, an on-campus student residence. His professional interests are centered on designing sustainable technology solutions to problems faced by developing nations.